University seeks reaccreditation by Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)

Once every ten year accreditation process scheduled for March 2020

Written By Jordyn Hronec, Editor-in-Chief

This March, the university will undergo an evaluation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) in order to earn accreditation. This is a process that, through the MSCHE, occurs once every ten years, though after this year, universities will be evaluated once every eight years. 

Point Park was first accredited in 1968 and last reaccredited in 2011. Accreditation is widely considered to be a form of quality control for institutes of higher education. It is not mandatory for colleges or universities to remain open, but a university’s accreditation status affects whether or not students can obtain federal financial aid and whether or not students can transfer their credits if they transfer schools.

“Any school in the country that gets federal aid at all, any kind of federal money, is required to be accredited by one of the six regional accrediting agencies throughout the country,” President Paul Hennigan said. 

Hennigan also said that Point Park receives about $40 million in federal aid for students per year.

The MSCHE is responsible for accrediting institutions in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. On it’s website, the MSCHE states that, “An institution of higher education is a community dedicated to students, to the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge, to the study and clarification of values, and to the advancement of the society it serves.”

The MSCHE has seven areas of evaluation listed where standards must be met so that institutions are accredited. Those areas, listed on the MSCHE’s website, are:

 

  1. Mission and Goals: The institution’s mission defines its purpose within the context of higher education, the students it serves, and what it intends to accomplish. The institution’s stated goals are clearly linked to its mission and specify how the institution fulfills its mission.
  2. Ethics and Integrity: Ethics and integrity are central, indispensable, and defining hallmarks of effective higher education institutions. in all activities, whether internal or external, an institution must be faithful to its mission, honor its contracts and commitments, adhere to its policies, and represent itself truthfully.
  3. Design and Delivery of the Student Learning Experience: An institution provides students with learning experiences that are characterized by rigor and coherence at all program, certificate, and degree levels, regardless of instructional modality. All learning experiences, regardless of modality, program pace/schedule, level, and setting are consistent with higher education expectations.
  4. Support of the Student Experience: Across all educational experiences, settings, levels, and instructional modalities, the institution recruits and admits students whose interests, abilities, experiences, and goals are congruent with its mission and educational offerings. The institution commits to student retention, persistence, completion, and success through a coherent and effective support system sustained by qualified professionals, which enhances the quality of the learning environment, contributes to the educational experience, and fosters student success.
  5. Educational Effectiveness Assessment: Assessment of student learning and achievement demonstrates that the institution’s students have accomplished educational goals consistent with their program of study, degree level, the institution’s mission, and appropriate expectations for institutions of higher education.
  6. Planning, Resources and Institutional Development: The institution’s planning processes, resources, and structures are aligned with each other and are sufficient to fulfill its mission and goals, to continuously assess and improve its programs and services, and to respond effectively to opportunities and challenges.
  7. Governance, Leadership and Administration: The institution is governed and administered in a manner that allows it to realize its stated mission and goals in a way that effectively benefits the institution, its students, and the other constituencies it serves. Even when supported by or affiliated with governmental, corporate, religious, educational system, or other unaccredited organizations, the institution has education as its primary purpose, and it operates as an academic institution with appropriate autonomy.

 

Within each of these areas, there is further criteria that must be met.

“Off of the top of my head, between what we did in 2011 and what we’re required to do this time around, there’s a stronger emphasis on the assessment of university effectiveness and stronger emphasis on assessment of student learning,” Hennigan said.

The process of accreditation begins with a “self study,” where a school administration crafts a written report, analyzing how well their respective institution adheres to the seven standards. 

“The process is meant to be formative,” Hennigan said. “You know, what do we do well? What do we fall short on? And what do we need to improve upon? So it’s meant to be a very honest kind of presentation.”

Point Park’s self study has been submitted to the MSCHE, and so come March 21-24, the university will undergo a virtual campus visit by a “group of peers.”

“The visiting team is always chaired by another college or university president,” Hennigan said. “And then it’s made up of five or six other professionals from other schools, usually a finance person, a faculty person to work on assessments. A student affairs person.”

According to President Hennigan, he has chaired three visiting teams for other institutions’ reaccreditation during his time as Point Park’s president. He said that during their virtual visit, they will be holding several meetings.

“That team will decide who they will be meeting with, and undoubtedly, they will be setting up meetings with students,” Hennigan said. “We don’t have the detailed meeting schedule yet, it’s really up to them, but they’ll send us a list of groups that they want to meet with.”

In addition to undergoing the reaccreditation process every ten years, now eight, institutions undergo a mid-point peer review, previously every five years and now every four years. Point Park’s last mid-point review occurred in 2016. Following the university’s last reaccreditation in 2011, the MSCHE requested a progress report be submitted in 2012 documenting progress in: “the (1) design and implementation of additional direct assessment measures and performance benchmarks in the evaluation of overall effectiveness of academic and non-academic units, along with evidence that these measures and benchmarks have influenced actions taken by the University to improve quality; (2) actions taken to strengthen student advising in all four schools and the use of assessment measures in the design and evaluation of these actions; (3) design and implementation of additional measures of student learning outcomes in the general education program with evidence that assessment information is used to improve teaching and learning in the general education program; and (4) evidence that student learning assessment information is used to improve teaching and learning.” This progress report was submitted and accepted.

The results of this year’s evaluation will be known in fall 2021.